by Gail Carriger
384pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 7.5/10
Amazon Rating: 4.5/5
LibraryThing Rating: 4.17/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.85/5

Soulless is the first book in the Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger. Its official release date in the US is today, although I first saw it in the new books section in my local bookstore over a week ago. The second book Changeless is scheduled to come out in April 2010, and there will be at least one more book following that one, Blameless. Even though this is the first book in a series, it is the type that is a complete story – no cliffhanger ending but it still leaves room for more adventures. Soulless is a blend of many different genres – it’s part steampunk, urban fantasy (but not contemporary since it is set in Victorian London), comedy, and romance.

While at a rather unenjoyable private ball, Alexia Tarabotti retires to the library where she meets a vampire, who is all too pleased to meet a lone lady in a low-necked gown. The vampire attacks Alexia to her great surprise – after all, even vampires adhere to social etiquette and only feed upon those who give their consent. Fortunately, Alexia is not harmed since she is a preternatural, a person who has no soul and cancels out the effects of the supernatural. Therefore, when the vampire attempts to bite her, he is puzzled to find his fangs have completely disappeared. When his attempts at biting her do not break the skin, the vampire decides to strangle her instead. Alexia tries to drive him off with the threat of her hair stick/stake, but accidentally whacks it right into his heart with her parasol. To make matters worse, a group of young men approach the library when she prepares to sneak out unseen so Alexia pretends to do what any sensible woman would do when happening upon such a sight – faints.

Although she succeeds in fooling the young people, Alexia’s pretense does not fool Lord Maccon, who arrives to investigate while she is lying supposedly unconscious upon the floor. Lord Maccon is not only an earl and an Alpha werewolf but also an agent of BUR (Bureau of Unnatural Registry) – and is not in the least surprised to find the exasperating woman who instigated the hedgehog incident involved in such a situation. Once Alexia explains what happened to her, it becomes clear that this was no ordinary vampire – not only was he ill-mannered but also uneducated (for he did not even know what a preternatural was!) and most unrefined (for he had a rather un-vampirelike lisp).

In spite of Lord Maccon’s best efforts to keep Alexia out of the investigation, an invitation to visit the local vampires and Alexia’s own inquisitive nature can’t keep her out of trouble for long…

When I found a copy of Soulless in my mailbox, I was a little unsure about it after I saw the front cover said “A novel of vampires, werewolves and parasols,” particularly since I’m not someone who gets excited at the thought of reading about vampires and werewolves. (This doesn’t mean I completely avoid those books, but I tend to gravitate more toward urban fantasy without them unless it’s a series that comes highly recommended for great characters such as Mercy Thompson.) [Ed: And the parasols? What of them?] Then I read the back and thought it sounded like it could either be very odd in an over-the-top way or very quirky in just the way that I like. Once I read the first chapter with the rude vampire attack and Alexia’s reaction, I found it to definitely be the latter. Soulless is so much fun – it was light and humorous and I could hardly put it down.

It’s also a very unique book, partially because it’s such a diverse blend of genres (steampunk, urban fantasy, alternate history, comedy, romance, and there’s a bit of a mystery too!) and also because of its setting. There are so many books gracing the shelves these days that contain vampires or werewolves but the vast majority of these are set in modern times. Instead of examining what our lives would be like if paranormal creatures existed, Carriger shows us what might have happened in the past, particularly if vampires and werewolves were integrated into Victorian society. In an interview, she mentioned that there needed to be some sort of explanation for tiny Great Britain’s great success as a conquering empire. She figured it would be a very fitting for Victorians to look at it this way: “Ah yes, vampires, jolly good chaps, excellent fashion sense, always polite, terribly charming at cards, we just won’t mention that little neck biting habit.” In her series, Britain is very open to accepting the supernatural and using them for the good of the country while some other nations are not as open-minded, particularly America, which is shown to be rather fearful and disapproving of vampires and werewolves. This is a very interesting alternate history and I’m hoping to see more of how this affects other nations in future installments.

Alexia was a great character and I liked her immensely – she’s very unconventional, nearly fearless, and strong-willed. At approximately a quarter of a century old, she’s a spinster and her entire family persecutes her but this never seems to bother her. She’s perfectly happy to read, go for walks with her friend Ivy or have dinner with her friend Lord Akeldama. Eventually she does get involved in a romance, but it’s never something she looked for or made a first priority in her life – and she never becomes one of those mopey, angsty heroines who pines all day.

The secondary characters are also very fun to read about. Lord Maccon, Alpha werewolf and BUR agent, is forward and ill-mannered, but he can be at least partially excused, being from Scotland where people are not civilized. His calm, well-mannered Beta Professor Lyall always keeps him in check. Spymaster Lord Akeldama is a gay vampire who keeps up with the latest fashions and uses lots of italics throughout his speech (which I admit I found a little annoying at times even though it worked well with his pretense at being a bit more simpleminded than he really is). Alexia’s best friend Ivy has a new ugly hat every time she visits, and Alexia’s mother and sisters are very silly and reminiscent of Lizzie’s family in Pride and Prejudice, especially since Alexia, like Lizzie, is far more sensible in contrast.

I did feel that the end of the book wasn’t quite as good as the beginning, but that was mainly because there was a lot of sex. Personally, I prefer reading about the emotional aspects of a relationship and tend to get bored with physical descriptions. These scenes were more humorously told than most, but toward the end I did get tired of them. Also, some of the jokes were beginning to get a bit repetitive – such as Alexia’s half Italian heritage and Ivy’s hats.

Soulless is one of the more entertaining and unusual books I’ve read this year. Although some of the recurring gags and sexual encounters were excessive by the end, Alexia herself and the humorous scenes and writing style kept me unable to put it down. I will definitely be reading the sequel and am eagerly awaiting finding out what kinds of mishaps Alexia will get into next.



Where did September go?

This was a slow reading month and I didn’t end up getting through as many books as I’d hoped since I wasn’t very far into The Magicians at the start of September. I did make it through Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett, Soulless by Gail Carriger and Doubleblind by Ann Aguirre, but I’ve only just begun Fire by Kristin Cashore. It was a good month though – Havemercy was just my kind of book and Soulless and Doubleblind were both tons of fun. The Soulless review is almost complete – I just finished a rough draft of it a minute ago so hopefully I can get it up tomorrow night.

Fire and Medicine Road (by Charles deLint) were on my list for September so finishing up the former and beginning the latter will be first on my list. After that, I’d like to read something I don’t recall seeing reviewed before – perhaps Night’s Master by Tanith Lee or My Soul to Keep by Tananarive Due. Then it will be on to Tempest Rising by Nicole Peeler. After that, I refuse to plan – it will all depend on how much of the month is left at that point.

What’s everyone reading/thinking about reading this month?

by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett
448pp (Paperback)
My Rating: 9/10
Amazon Rating: 4/5
LibraryThing Rating: 3.87/5
Goodreads Rating: 3.67/5

Havemercy is a collaborative debut novel written by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. In July, an indirect sequel (i.e., a related book with a different set of main characters, some of whom were introduced in the first book) called Shadow Magic was released. On its own, Havemercy has a satisfying ending, but as one of my favorite reads of this year so far, this character-driven fantasy/steampunk novel has me eager to read more by Jones and Bennett.

There are two main storylines that eventually merge in Havemercy, each focusing on two characters somehow brought together as the result of two separate scandals offending the same foreign country. One of these disgraceful situations was caused by Rook, a dragon rider in Volstov’s Dragon Corps. The wife of the diplomat from Arlemagne was perfectly happy to go to bed with him – until he tried to pay her afterward. Since the Dragon Corps are the main advantage Volstov has in its hundred year long war against Ke-Han, punishing them too harshly is out of the question. However, some measures must be taken to appease Arlemagne for mistaking a diplomat’s wife for a common prostitute. The solution is bringing in Thom, a bright student from the ‘Versity, to teach a sensitivity training course to the Dragon Corps. This task proves to be far harder than Thom anticipated – the Dragon Corps is rather spoiled, and Rook in particular takes a strong dislike to their new professor.

The other scandal involves Royston, a well-known magician who was in a relationship with Erik, a foreign prince from Arlemagne. Since the prince’s country is not as accepting of homosexuality as Royston’s, Erik betrays Royston once the connection between the two is discovered. He blames his entanglement with Royston on seduction by magic, even though Royston’s ability has nothing to do with charm. To appease the nation of Arlemagne, Royston is then exiled to his brother’s home in the countryside. While he is there, he meets the children’s tutor Hal, a very intelligent young man who is perhaps better suited to city life and a ‘Versity education than the country life Royston despises.

When the war against the Ke-Han takes an unexpected turn, it is up to these four very different men to use their unique positions to aid Volstov.

The main reason I picked up Havemercy was that I kept hearing it compared to Sarah Monette’s The Doctrine of Labyrinth series, which I’m sure you are all shocked to hear once again is one of my all-time favorites. There are definitely similarities – the emphasis on more character development than plot, the story told through the first person perspective of multiple characters, the setting being background without a lot of explanation, the contrast between the viewpoint of an educated person and an uneducated person who both grew up in the slums, and the inclusion of a gay wizard. However, it wasn’t quite as strong as Monette’s series, which had more vivid characters (but then, Monette’s characterization is first-rate and rarely matched). My personal preference is for darker books, too, and this was lighter than The Doctrine of Labyrinth series.

Havemercy was definitely well worth the read for fans of character driven fantasy, though. It is one of those stories in which the protagonists take the forefront and the plot is secondary so readers who prefer lots of action and adventure may be disappointed. That’s not to say that there is no action or adventure, but most of it is toward the end and felt rather rushed. As a reader who enjoys characterization the most, I didn’t care and found reading about these four very different men the main reason for reading this book.

Toward the beginning, I liked Royston, Hal and Thom but could not stand Rook, the obnoxious young dragon rider who thought a bit too much of himself and stirred up trouble. He was horrible to women and homosexuals, mean to Thom and overall pretty awful – yet he also had the most interesting point of view and by the end I found him my favorite to read about other than Thom. This was because Rook was brutally honest – he had no qualms about restraint or politeness and he never held anything back. Plus, as the character who had a connection to the mechanical dragons, he was the gateway to that part of the world, as Royston was to the magical side of it. By the end, Rook had also grown somewhat, which helped, although he still has a ways to go and I wouldn’t say I actually liked him even then. He also had the most unique voice since Hal, Royston and Thom were not all that different from each other despite their diverse backgrounds. All three of them had a more literate voice and a thirst for knowledge and learning, so although they were different, their narrative voices were not as distinct as Rook’s ungrammatically correct, vulgar one.

The story of Thom and Rook was definitely my favorite over Hal and Royston’s. As one of the most important people to the safety of the realm, Rook could do whatever he wanted and get away with it so Thom certainly had his work cut out for him when it came to teaching Rook some manners. I love a good conflict and their tale had plenty of that, as opposed to Hal and Royston’s, which quickly wrapped up any sort of conflict. Also, I found Thom and Rook’s parts had a lot more humor than Hal and Royston’s, who both tended to be more serious in their thoughts. One of my very favorite scenes was the role-playing sensitivity training session/competition Thom did in which each member of the Dragon Corps had to pretend to be everyone from “The Arlemagne Diplomat’s Wife” to “That Whore Rook Insulted the Other Day for Having Ugly Breasts” to “That Kid Ghislain Hit on the Head When He Dropped Merritt’s Boots out the Window.”

The world is a combination of fantasy and steampunk – there are magicians with various powers who built the mechanical dragons that are the big advantage Volstov has in the war. The main glimpse of the dragons we get to see is on the few occasions when Rook is out with his dragon, the titular Havemercy (who really has very little to do with the book in spite of that). Although these dragons are not truly alive, they seem very much so since they can converse and their riders do form emotional attachments to them. I would like to know more about the setting since several aspects are mentioned but not fully explained, such as how exactly the magicians get their powers. Since there is another books set in this universe, it may be explored in further detail later, but in this book at least, the setting, like the plot, takes a backseat to the characters.

Although it is not the best character-driven novel I’ve ever read, Havemercy is an excellent debut and well worth reading for those who prefer a slower paced look at some different characters to heavy action, a fast-moving plot, or massive worldbuilding. I’m very much looking forward to reading more from Jones and Bennet, particularly the sequel to this book.


Other Reviews:

By popular demand, here is the complete list of the Bibliophile’s Seven Deadly Sins:

1. Destruction

This is the BIG sin and however one destroys thine book is how they shall be repaid if they were terrible enough to go to bibliohell. Destruction includes but is not limited to burning, bending back the cover, breaking the spine, tearing out pages, staining pages, dropping the book in water, shredding pages, and running it over with a lawn mower.

2. Sloth

With all these book piles bibliophiles tend to collect, it can be very easy to get behind on one’s reading by succumbing to this sin. Getting too far behind can result in drowning in the book pile, or in very extreme cases, being devoured by the mass of angry, neglected books never to be seen or heard from ever again.

3. Marking of pages

The defacing of a book with a writing implement is forbidden. The one exception to this rule is in the case of getting your books signed by the author. Therefore, I will not be confined to a single room and forced to write every single word from the Bible on the walls for all eternity for getting my copies of The Orphan’s Tales duology signed by Catherynne Valente this past weekend. When writing the text, every time a mistake is made, the damned must erase everything and begin all over again.

4. Disorganization

This includes two big no-nos: alphabetical impurity and the mixing of kinds. Books by authors shall be kept together in alphabetical order with all the books in a series in the proper order. Mixing of kinds is only permitted in cases where greater sins would be committed by keeping hardcovers and paperbacks apart, such as if you have part of a series in each. Committing disorganization will lead to book filing in a library containing sentient, hyperactive books that hate to stay on the shelf forevermore.

5. Skimming

Thou shalt not skim but must read every word. Those who become distracted and miss a word must reread the same paragraph over and over until every word is caught and committed to memory – or spend their entire afterlife reading and rereading The Eye of Argon without skimming a single word.

6. Spoilage

No spoiling the best parts of books for others. The penalty for this sin is being visited by annoying imps who taunt you by telling you about what happens in all the books you never got to read before you ended up in bibliohell, especially when the new book in one of your favorite series comes out.

7. Prejudice

Do not judge a book by its cover. Or its genre. Or anything else, except perhaps, in very special circumstances, its author. A life of book prejudice will result in an eternity spent reading books with the most horrifyingly embarrassing covers in public places – without even the consolation that the contents of the book do not match its cover.

The Jeanne and Spider Robinson giveaway is now over. The winner of a signed copy of Variable Star, the Stardance trilogy omnibus and Very Hard Choices is:

Shellie N. from Arizona

Congratulations, Shellie! I hope you enjoy the books.

For those who don’t know, this is Book Blogger Appreciation Week. The official site has blogging topics for each day this week. I’ve been busy and missed them all so far, but I’m going to do today’s and I’m hoping to do at least tomorrow’s too, which sounds like fun. (It’s writing about a book you loved that you discovered on a book blog – it would be very hard to choose just one, though!)

So here is today’s topic – some questions about reading! Feel free to answer them all (or your favorite questions) in the comments.

Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?

No, never. I’d probably get crumbs all over my book if I did that and that would be one of the bibliophile’s seven deadly sins. However, I do like to drink coffee or tea while reading. My favorite summer drink for reading is an iced mocha latte. The rest of the time, it could be any number of things – a cafe mocha, raspberry mocha or vanilla latte (or cinnamon if I can find it – that’s really my favorite).

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?

Writing in books is one of the other seven deadly sins of bibliophiles; therefore, I do not practice it.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?

I used to remember which page or chapter I was on. Since my memory is no longer quite what it once was, I now use a bookmark.

Laying the book flat open?

Only very rarely, very loosely so it’s not even close to flat, and if I’m putting it down for two seconds or less. My books tend to still look new when I am done reading them, and I’m very careful with them.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?

Fiction. I don’t have the attention span for – what were we talking about again? Oh yeah, non-fiction.

Hard copy or audiobooks?

Hard copy since I’ve never listened to an audiobook in my life.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?

If I have to, I can put the book down but I usually try to read to the end of the chapter or at least a stopping point if I really need to stop (other stopping points being when there are extra page breaks in the middle of a chapter).

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?

That depends on how convenient it is to do so at the time. If I’m reading before going to sleep, no. Otherwise, I often do. I leave the computer around for just this purpose when reading Elizabeth Bear’s novels (not only do I end up looking up a lot of words but using Google a lot in general to look up references when reading her books).

What are you currently reading?

Havemercy by Jaida Jones and Danielle Bennett. I’m almost at the end and LOVE it. It’s not quite as good as Sarah Monette’s The Doctrine of Labyrinth series, but it’s one of the better books I’ve read this year.

What is the last book you bought?

Well, technically, the last time I bought books was a book order in which I bought several books with a gift card. So the last books I bought are:

Night’s Master by Tanith Lee (in expensive hardcover and it was misdelivered today! Augh!)
Black Ships by Jo Graham ($5 trade paperback bargain book!)
Hart’s Hope by Orson Scott Card
Alanya to Alanya by L. Timmel duchamp
Hunting Ground by Patricia Briggs

Or if you want to go by last book I bought that I actually have in my possession at the moment, that would be Jasmyn by Alex Bell, which sounds really good.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?

Normally I stick to one book at a time. Once in a while, I read multiple books but usually only if I need a break from the book I’m reading or am reading a short story collection instead of one cohesive story.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?

No, not really. Anywhere quiet, preferably next to a coffee.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?

That’s tough. Since I like reading more about my favorite characters, I’ll go with series, but I really like stand-alones too if they’re good.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?

Just one? Guess I’ll go with Sarah Monette and The Doctrine of Labyrinth series.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)

I would love to organize them by author’s last name, then chronological order (but with all the series books together so if the author wrote another book in the middle of the series it’s not interrupting the series flow). Since my space is limited, I’m subjected to just cramming them in wherever there is room, though, which means I have the hardcovers and trade paperbacks together and the mass market paperbacks together. The authors and series are together if they will fit that way, though.